MICHAEL DAUGHERTY: Tales of Hemingway; American Gothic; Once Upon a Castle – Zuill Bailey, cello/Paul Jacobs, organ/Nashville Sym. /Giancarlo Guerrero – Naxos

by | Oct 5, 2016 | Classical CD Reviews

Some of Daugherty’s finest music to date in bold, innovative scenarios.

MICHAEL DAUGHERTY: Tales of Hemingway; American Gothic; Once Upon a Castle – Zuill Bailey, cello/Paul Jacobs, organ/Nashville Sym./Giancarlo Guerrero – Naxos American Classics 8.559798, 77:43 (9/09/16) ****:

I don’t even know where to begin in discussing this latest release from Michael Daugherty except to say that I love it! I have followed Michael’s music for many years now and I have all his recordings. This one might be my favorite.

The “theme” to this album is not really that of the title work; a brilliant and often moving cello concerto inspired by the novels of Ernest Hemingway, but it is really that of the maverick and eccentric spirit in American art and written with much implied respect to this country where being a maverick, eccentric and occasionally controversial personality is still possible.

To this end, Daugherty has crafted three stunning works which pay homage to the reclusive Hemingway, the often wry and bizarre art of Grant Wood and the unabashedly extravagant William Randolph Hearst. The Hemingway piece, Tales of Hemingway, is a beautiful and inventive four movement cello concerto performed wonderfully by the always amazing Zuill Bailey. The novels represented by each movement include Big Two-Hearted River, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Old Man and the Sea and The Sun Also Rises. This work captures the mood of these masterpieces and, solely as music, is one of the finest works for cello I have heard these past ten years.

American Gothic is essentially a concerto for orchestra after the paintings of Iowa eccentric Grant Wood, including the title work which receives an odd, perky and engaging turn as the “Pitchfork” mentioned in the last movement. Of the three works here this is the one that may sound the most like Daugherty’s signature sound and is a wonderfully entertaining, somewhat wild ride.

Once Upon a Castle, intended to represent the unseemly extravagance of Hearst Castle at San Simeon and the man who created it is absolutely mesmerizing. We get a four movement dream-like visage of the lifestyle of the publishing tycoon and his strangely arrogant but troubled existence. By making the piece an organ concerto, Daugherty allows us to feel both the awe as well as a certain amount of the bizarre quality embedded in the castle’s size, its labyrinthian rooms and long halls that seem nearly pointless. I have been there and my impression was exactly that of awe but oddness; almost creepy. In fact, the “Rosebud” movement channels a famous moment in the movie Citizen Kane wherein the famous couple of the movie (who were intended to be Hearst and his mistress, Marion Davies) argue across a vast, impersonal and pointlessly vast unused room. I also applaud Daugherty for dedicating the “Neptune Pool” to the memory of composer and former colleague William Albright, whose work pioneered new uses of pipe organ – and whose music I heard many years ago.

Ample compliments, yet again, to the Nashville Symphony and maestro Giancarlo Guerrero for stunning performances as well as their ongoing commitment to American contemporary music. This ensemble is becoming one of my favorite American symphony orchestras for these reasons.

If Daugherty’s intent in these works was to simultaneously illustrate the vast array of creative genius in America’s art history and to hold up the culture that allows it; this album is a resounding success. If his intent was simply to create three unusual but highly captivating pieces of music that speak to a wide audience, it succeeds even more. Michael, if you read this; I am a big fan and would love to see what kind of musical portrait you could create of Frank Lloyd Wright, for example.

—Daniel Coombs

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